Every year, Apple awards 350 WWDC (World Wide Developers Conference) tickets free-of-charge to students around the world. This year, I was able to earn of those Apple WWDC Scholarship tickets. I attended last year’s conference as well through the scholarship program. Last year’s prompt was simple: submit an app that uses core Apple technologies and APIs in a creative manner. This year, however, involved the creation of a Swift playground or a playground book. Since I didn’t own a personal iPad, I built a Swift playground, Zookeeper.
Zookeeper was inspired by a toy I played with as a child. It had various animals that you could press and make sounds. My goal for Zookeeper was to bring this simple toy to the digital realm in an interactive and immersive manner. The game is designed for children who are learning to speak. It can also be used by a speech pathologist for children with speech disabilities.
In Zookeeper, the user drags various food items to animals. Animals grow and make noises in reaction to being fed. Furthermore, once an animal is full, they explode into a happy cloud of smiling emoji. Throughout the app, a voice assistant guides the user in completing various tasks in the playground. Zookeeper as a whole is a simple app. Through beautiful artwork and sound effects, my project looked thorough and professional. Ultimately, I wanted to design and build an elegant and straightforward experience that brings a smile to everyone’s face.
Along with the project, I also submitted two essays: one explaining how I leveraged Apple technologies in Zookeeper and another talking about how I spread the power of computer science throughout my community. I’m pretty sure it is my essays that got me into WWDC this year. My game wasn’t anything spectacular, but I spent a lot of time crafting two well composed essays that I hope helped the judges understand who I am. Other attendees had both amazing applications and some which left them wondering how they landed up winning in the first place.
There was a lot of diversity at WWDC, most evidently seen in the demographics of the student attendees. In fact, most of the scholars were not from the United States. A wide array of countries was represented from all corners of the world: China, Mexico, Argentina, the Netherlands, Germany, Brazil, India, etc.
Something cool which was never a feature of a prior WWDC was pin collection. Every year, attendees pick up their conference jacket during the check-in process. This time, developers received a black Levi’s jean jacket with WWDC17 embroidered on the front, along with a starter kit of collectable pins, an event badge, and a pin with the flag of the country they came from.
The most memorable part of the entire event for me was definitely the WWDC Bash. Fall Out Boy put on a terrific private concert with some of their best songs, from “Centuries” to their new single, “Young and Menace”. This was the first concert I had ever attended and it was a phenomenal experience. I stood only 20 feet away from the stage and could see the faces of all four performers. Although I could not get the Cmd+Z pin (given to developers who ordered a beer at the bash), the WWDC Bash was a night to remember.
Although we received reserved seating for the opening keynote, we were still quite a distance from the stage. Many regular developers sat much further ahead. Nonetheless, it was thrilling to watch Apple announce all of their new products and toolkits for developers, from ARKit and CoreML, two frameworks designed to build augmented reality and intelligent experiences for users, to Apple’s HomePod, a combination of high-quality speakers and Siri.
During the conference itself, there were many exciting lunchtime talks and discussions, apart from the usual sessions and labs. For all of you that don’t know, sessions are recorded lectures by Apple employees about various technical frameworks or design tips. Developers attend WWDC for their counterpart: labs. Anyone can attend labs to meet up and talk with Apple engineers about a specific framework or get help on their real project. I attended quite a few sessions during the week and a handful of labs, mainly about CoreML/NLP, ARKit, Autolayout, AVFoundation, and HealthKit.
A favorite for all attendees are the lunchtime sessions. These sessions are unrecorded and feature significant individuals who have changed their respective fields. My favorite was a moderated conversation with the former First Lady, Michelle Obama. Thousands of developers flocked into the convention center to listen to her talk. It was both inspiring and interesting to hear about her life after leaving the White House, her work in improving women’s rights around the world, and fighting childhood obesity. Other lunchtime sessions included a former NASA engineer who had to fight racial and gender standards to become the best she could be, a quadriplegic who preached accessibility in all mobile applications, and a computer scientist who infused light with her passion for dance to create spectacular shows.
This week was an exciting mix of fun and learning about new software Apple opened up to developers. Even though it was my second time, I enjoyed it as much (if not more) than the first. From the opening keynote to the WWDC Bash, this week was amazing. In no other conference would I have had the opportunity to connect with so many other students from around the world passionate about the same thing: building apps. Thank you WWDC for another fantastic year.